Thursday, December 20, 2012

 Metal thieves are a major problem these days.  In their pursuit of copper (although they will steal anything metallic) they create thousands of dollars of damage for the few dollars they will receive at the salvage yard for their "take".

Sadly, we have to respond and make their activity more difficult.  Here are two cages we have had constructed.  One surrounding a pumping station with panel, pump, and filters all enclosed.  The other just protecting a pump motor.

Our Stanislaus County Sheriff, Adam Christianson, has spoken at community events where I have heard him repeatedly say, "Lock it down, nail it down, chain it down, weld it down, tie it down" etc. or risk losing it. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When the ground is too wet for our regular weed sprayers we can pull a small tank with an ATV.  Here we are spraying the weeds along the tree row with a contact and a residual herbicide. These winter annual weeds would be taller than the trees before spring if not killed now.
These trees were planted in September and by now have had time to begin to grow roots into the surrounding soil and to grow some shoots.  They will be established and get off to a strong start in the spring.
Here we are applying potassium sulfate fertilizer.  Commonly referred to as "potash", potassium is an important nutrient for almond production.   For every 1,000 lbs of almonds that are harvested, over 50 lbs of potassium are removed with the crop.  A 3,000 lb crop removes over 150 pounds of potassium.  To replace that potassium, 300 pounds of potassium sulfate must be applied since the fertilizer is only 50% potassium.  Here we are applying 700 pounds per acre.

Our eastern Stanislaus soils are frequently deficient in potassium.  We apply the fertilizer in bands because potassium tends to bind with the soil and become unavailable to the trees.  By banding the application, we can saturate the soil immediately below the surface and make more of the potassium available to the trees.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I have been very busy with farm work and I have been neglecting my blog postings.    One project since harvest has been to get "Blue Sierra" farms planted.  The soil here is a sticky clay on rolling terrain so we needed to get it planted before the rainy season.  After slip-plowing the soil we laid out the row and tree spacing to allow placement of the irrigation system.

The existing well had been tested a year earlier, but it was nonetheless a relief to finally fire up the new pump and see that the well is going to be more than adequate.  The initial water appears dirty, but it cleared up shortly after old rust and sediment from years of sitting idle were purged from the well.

 Here the trees are staged by variety at the head of each row.  Using potted trees allows us to plant at virtually any time of year.  In this case early fall to be ahead of the rain

 Each tree is placed near its new home just ahead of the planting crew.  The weather was cool and overcast which was nice for the trees since their only source of water was the limited moisture in the plastic sleeve it was grown in.

 After the trees are planted a protective cover, a "milk carton", is placed over each tree to protect the trunk from herbicides, sunburn, and rodents.

After planting, we immediately irrigate to settle the soil around the root ball and to be sure there is ample moisture for the trees.  Of course that germinates the weeds.  We followed the irrigation with a weed spray to control the weeds along the tree row.  We were very fortunate because the rain started just one day after completing the herbicide application and the ground has been too wet for equipment since then.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Shuttle Cart and Pickup Machine
Finally, Oct 19, the last day of Almond harvest 2012!  Yeah!!

Now, off to finish the walnut harvest.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

9/25/2012 Started shaking Monterey variety, our last one.  We are getting a good clean shake here, but some other blocks will not be ready to shake until next week.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wow! These Wood Colony wind rows are awesome!  Much bigger than I expected.  I'm anxious to see how big the crop is, hoping for good news.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Green" nuts that were not removed by the shaker
We tried to shake these Wood Colony trees today but they are a little too green so these nuts were left after shaking.  We'll return in a few days and try again.  The Wood Colony in some other blocks came off nicely.  Each orchard matures at its' own pace.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

RUST(note rust colored spore patches on leaf undersides)
It seems Rust (fungal disease) is becoming more of a concern every year.  In 2010 and 2011 I thought the high infection levels might be attributable to the cool growing seasons we experienced those years.  This year the temperatures warmed back up to a near average valley summer.  Additionally, we treated all of the bearing orchards with a rust fungicide early in the season. Despite these factors the disease has been present at low levels all year, and is really taking off now in the late season.
Micro-irrigation systems allow us to continue to irrigate later-harvesting varieties while we harvest the early maturing ones.  Here are some Monterey trees being kept wet to minimize stress while we shake the Wood Colony in the same orchard.
     Not too many years ago it was commonly thought that stress put the trees into a reproductive mode and would therefore create bigger crops.  Experience has proven that trees that experience the least stress are the best producers.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Shaking Wood Colony

We started shaking the Wood Colony variety today.  Nut removal has been good.

The Monterey will be close behind.  They are splitting but there are still a few that are still tight on the trees.  They will likely be ready in about a week.

The weather forecast is very favorable; warm and dry for at least two weeks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

 Picture taken Friday Sept 7.  These fresh tracks are indicative of the dust settling impact of the recent rain showers.  The forecast is for warm and dry weather for at least the next 10 days.  Good.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

LIGHTNING! THUNDER! SHOWERS!  This morning nature provided a reminder that we need to keep harvest moving along.  The showers were not enough to get things too wet; they just settled the dust, but three days ago they were not even in the forecast.  This time of year the weather can change quickly.

We will finish harvest of all of our Nonpareil tomorrow.  All of the orchards will get a good drink of water and then we will start shaking the other varieties next week as they mature.

No rain for a month, please!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Here is our 5-man crew, taking a well deserved lunch break while working Sunday of Labor Day weekend.  The harvest season knows no holidays!  I brought them pizza as a thanks for the extra effort they are putting in.  These five men will pick up roughly 800,000 pounds of field run almonds from this ranch in 4 days!
"Field run" refers to what we pick up and send to the huller.  It includes the almond meats, the shells, the hulls, and any foreign material such as sticks, rocks, etc.
The "crackout" is the percentage of meats that are in the field-run product.  Typically the percentage for Nonpareil is around 22-25%.  We had one ranch that averaged 28% this year.  Industry wide, I am hearing that crackouts are running low this year, some as low as 18%.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

We planted a 30 acre almond orchard on Wednesday and Thursday, August 22 & 23.  We used a mechanical planter this year.  The tractor is driven by GPS and as a result the rows are very straight.  I am not as happy with the placement within the rows, but they are within inches and in a year the variation will not be visible.

It has been a unique experience to be planting a new orchard at the same time we are harvesting others.  The early planting will allow the trees to get established this fall and grow very rapidly next spring.

We used the drip irrigation system to give them a good soaking immediately after planting.

Trees arrive from Duarte Nursery in Hughson
Tuesday, August 21, trees were delivered from Duarte Nursery.  Trays, each containing 16  trees, are stacked two high inside the trailers.

Everything is in place to begin planting.  The soil has been ripped and fumigated, and the irrigation system is installed.  The soil was pre-irrigated so we will be planting into moisture.

Ready for the heavy lifting of unloading

The trees are unloaded and placed at the edge of the field for planting on Wednesday.  They must be kept wet to stay healthy.

Giving the trees plenty of water
The first cart of our 2012 season loaded on August 24.
We started shaking on August 17 this year.  This is a third leaf tree.  Nuts on the younger trees matured first this year.  Nut removal has been very good and very little hand poling will be required.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hull split status

Hull split has rapidly advanced over the last week. Some nuts in the interior of the trees are still in the early hull split stage. Harvest will likely start in about two weeks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

normal progression of hull split (July 23)
This picture is of nuts with hull split at the stage I would have expected most nuts to be since I saw the beginning of hull split more than 10 days ago.

The nuts in the lower picture are representative of most of the Nonpareil nuts I am seeing.  Many nuts not split at all, and many with only early splitting along the suture line.  This is surprising considering the warm weather we have had.  Hopefully things will move along faster so that harvest is not delayed.  The later harvest starts, the later it will end, increasing the chances of wet weather at the tail end of harvest.

slow progression of hull split typical of nuts year, (July 23)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Started an exciting new almond development project this week.  The pictures don't show it, but some of the hills are STEEP!  Scrapers are taking the tops off the steepest hills so they can be safely farmed.  A ripper started loosening the ground.  I'll post pictures of the equipment working next week.

These are the first splitting hulls I've seen this year.  They are on an outside Nonpareil tree along an avenue.  The rest won't be far behind!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Good Growth with a Good Crop
The Objective Crop Estimate of the 2012 almond crop released today;

2.1 Billion Pounds  

This would be a record crop, but up only 3% from last year.  It is 5% more than the Subjective Estimate that was released in May.

What does it mean for almond prices?  Time will tell, but it is not a figure much larger or smaller than was anticipated.  I do not expect a large price change in either direction.  As an industry we have been able to sell these large crops at prices that are affordable by consumers and provide growers a fair return.

Today's picture shows an almond tree with a good crop and nice new growth.  A large crop demands a lot of resources from the tree and can result in limited new growth.  We help the tree by providing adequate water and nutrients.  This tree shows good vigor and will be ready for a repeat performance next year.

Peach Silver Mite effect
Friend or Foe?  Frequently a very tiny mite called the Peach Silver Mite will establish itself in an almond orchard.  Their feeding activity causes the leaves to have a silvery appearance.  When I see the discoloration I use my 14X lens to verify their presence.  I also look for the presence of Predatory Mites because their population can increase by feeding on the Silver Mites.  When I see silver mites I immediately think "Predator Food". Sometimes the predators will build up a large enough population to control the very destructive two-spotted and Pacific spider mites (Tetranychus spp.) which can cause defoliation of almond trees.  Very seldom, if ever, is it necessary to treat for Silver Mites.  Determining the need to spray for mites involves regular checking to monitor the population dynamics of the destructive Tetranychus mites, the predator mites, and the more benign Silver Mites.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bucket Auger & Power Auger
The hot weather season has arrived and we are very busy with irrigation.

Water management and irrigation have a greater impact on production than anything else we do as farmers. Efficient use of water can enhance production while conserving a precious resource.

I use several technological tools to determine the water needs of the trees.  Two companies, PureSense and ClimateMinder, have established sensors in our orchards to measure the  moisture content of the soil at several depths and climatic information.  The real-time information is available via the internet.  At another ranch, we use Neutron Probe technology to measure soil moisture content at various depths.  That information is gathered weekly and sent to me by email.

Because the sensors are at fixed locations, I use the tools in the picture to verify what the sensors are saying and to see how their information relates to other locations in the orchard.  I have used my bucket auger for years and it is an excellent tool.  However, it requires a lot of time and effort so fewer samples are taken.  The power auger was the suggestion of my friend Floyd Perry from Butte County.  It is faster and easier so allows me to look at several locations in a short amount of time.

These two basic tools see a lot of use during the irrigation season.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Verticillium Wilt is a soil-borne fungal disease that sometimes affects young almonds. The fungus grows inside the tree and can result in death to part or all of the tree. The first two pictures here show the classic external and internal symptoms of this disease. On this 40 acre block about 15 trees are affected so far.
2nd leaf tree with Verticillium wilt

Most of the infected trees are in a small area that was too close to buildings to be fumigated with Telone prior to planting. In the first picture, you can see in the distance that most of the orchard is doing well. The last picture shows part of the non-fumigated area where the trees are weak or have died. These two pictures illustrate the importance of preplant fumigation in orchard replant situations.
Internal brown necrotic area, symptom of Verticillium Wilt

Regulations or restrictions that would prevent us from performing preplant fumigation could have a devastating impact on our ability to establish new orchards.

Area not fumigated prior to planting

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

As the nuts fill out they become heavier.  The limbs bend over and fill the space between the rows.  Tractor work becomes difficult and hazardous.  This is no time for inexperienced drivers.  Here we are applying a spray which includes a fungicide (target: rust, scab, and alternaria), insecticide (target: Peach Twig Borer and Navel Orangeworm), and a miticide (target: mites). My hope is that this will be the last spray necessary for this season.  Besides the risk and discomfort to drivers, traveling through the orchard after the beginning of hull split (late June) knocks a lot of nuts off the trees.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The process of solidification of the nut meats continues to advance from the tip of the almond toward the base.  This is visible as the gelatinous material becomes opaque.  As this process continues the nuts become heavier.  This is an early-harvesting Nonpareil nut.  Interestingly, the later-maturing Monterey and Woods Colony nuts are just as far along in this process.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Here are our young Candycot trees.  They are trained to a "V" trellis.  Growing the limbs at just the right angle increases fruitfulness and assures penetration of sunlight for even ripening and better fruit color.  Like almonds, Candycots are not self fertile and so we plant two varieties together to pollinate one another.  In this orchard, Anya and Yulia are planted in alternating rows.  Anya leaves are a darker green and the trees are a little less vigorous.
Oat Hay Ready to Load

More Oat Hay
Hey, look at all that, uh, hay!

Each bale about 900-1000 lbs.  Ready to be delivered to cows to be turned into milk.

Growing oat hay has been interesting, much more passive than nuts and fruit, but kind of fun for a change.

Now it is time to get this field ready to plant to almond trees this fall.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chandler Walnut Nutlets
Walnut bloom is wrapping up and the nutlets are expanding.  It is way to early to guess at crop size.  Even later in the season walnuts are difficult to estimate because of the size of the trees and the nuts are similar in color to the leaves.  This is a triple cluster in the center of the picture.  Lots of doubles and triples will generally mean a better crop, but it is too early to know how many are there.  (Pretty picture though!)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

4th Leaf Almonds
Freeze Damage on young Tulare Walnut tree
The cold dry December we had in 2011 caused freezing damage on some young walnuts.  This is a walnut entering its' second leaf.  The lowest buds are OK but the upper part of the tree will need to be removed.  If left behind, the tree would grow around the dead wood and create a weak trunk.  The roots are unaffected and the tree will regrow vigorously. The interesting thing is that the freeze damage happened seemingly at random to only 11 trees on 30 acres.  Good soil moisture during the cold winter months, and not pruning too early are freeze-prevention measures for young walnuts.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Subjective Crop Estimate Released Today

The results of this years subjective crop estimate were published today.  This is a telephone survey of a few hundred almond growers asking their estimate of crop size.  The resulting estimate for this year’s crop is 2 billion pounds of almond meats (shelled nuts). The survey is conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.  If the estimate is correct, that would put the crop at slightly less that last years production of 2.03 billion pounds.  Last year the subjective estimate was 1.75 billion pounds, so the growers underestimated last years crop.  Judging from what I see in my little part of the world, I think the crop will be higher than the estimate once again.